If you’re trying to be a serious writer, there are some things that you should know to avoid going wrong. Here are some common mistakes.
Making the most effective choice of what to write about is a major part of writing well. The wrong topic often makes it challenging to put one’s heart into producing good work. So, what is the right topic? It’s usually writing about something you’ve had experience doing or have gone through—something maybe unforgettable and/or something worth sharing with an audience.
On the other hand, suppose you want to write about something you feel deeply about or are excited about, but you don’t have direct education or experience in that subject. It’s likely that you’ll need to do lots of research to be able to write something authoritative. That in itself is almost the same as having experience. Even though you’re writing second-hand, with appropriate research, you can sound convincing.
Writing can be short (e.g., an article, a pamphlet, a chapter) or it can be longer (e.g., a book, a tome, a series). The length often depends on the narrowness or breadth of the topic. For example, writing about nutrition for horse trainers might best be presented in a pamphlet, while writing about the background and outcomes of the American Civil War would clearly require a book (probably even a long one). It basically means letting the number of words in the content match the promise of the title.
Author as expert
It’s an expectation that, whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, when you write about a place, a time, a situation, an event, etc., you’ve done enough background checking to describe or discuss it accurately. That is, of course, unless you state that names, dates, and places are all made up. You need to sound/write like you know what you’re talking about.
Writing versus speaking
Every person (without a speech impairment) can talk. But it would seem that not everyone is a writer. Why is that? First of all, some people don’t believe that they can write. They may not have the self-confidence, don’t have the education, may never have been trained, and so on. And many people think that writing is different from speaking. Well, in a way it is. It requires some know-how and discipline—the first has to be acquired, and the second has to be either natural or requires a strong commitment.
However (and this is the good news), if you can speak (clearly or not), you can record or write down your thoughts or ideas. It then takes some discipline and drudgery to refine that writing to make it actually an effective communication instrument. And that requires that you know whom you’re writing for (your audience). If you and they are on the same wavelength, you’re going to sell your work.
Fear of writing
Fear keeps some people from writing, or putting into words something they’d really like to say. However, as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” And this is only partly dependent on writing ability. Actually, if you can say it, it can be written. Lots of book are ghost-written, meaning that the actual author speaks into a recording device, and the actual writer transcribes those words and thought into text. Obviously, the author has final say as to what’s written.
Furthermore, let’s say you want to write about something controversial and you don’t want to be personally connected to it (for fear of reprisals or whatever). The solution is easy. Create a pen name, and write under that. And, depending on the medium of your writing, you can always choose to write anonymously. Famous pen names include: Lewis Carroll, Ann Landers, George Orwell, Ayn Rand, Dr Seuss, Mark Twain, Abigail Van Buren. A complete list would be very long.
Intricate or detailed descriptions
Some authors think that professional writing means providing long or unusual ways of describing people or places. But that can tire a reader more than many other aspects of writing. Words that draw most people in describe some kind of action, using nouns and verbs. As often as not, adjectives and adverbs clutter a text. The best writers use between two and three times as many strong verbs as adjectives.
And worse, using weak adjectives sometimes indicates a weak vocabulary. The result is that a writer will usually need to express an idea using two or more weak words, where one strong word would be more effective. Example:
Original: The painting was very good.
Improved: The painting was superb.
Using vague nouns is another case of using too many words to do the job. Example:
Original: Career growth was an important reason why I decided to join the company.
Improved: I joined the company to advance my career.
Even if you don’t do it while you’re writing, do it when you edit your work. Look for sentences that can be re-worded to make them more succinct, direct, and clear.
Another category is filler words. These add no meaning or value to a sentence. They just take up space. They get into writing because they’re so often used in everyday speech. Example:
Original: For all intents and purposes, the story was an autobiography.
Improved: The story was essentially an autobiography. Removing filler words makes writing crisper.
Working on improving your vocabulary will go a long way to ensuring that you’re using the fewest and strongest words to convey your message. And, more significantly, strong adjectives make your writing more vibrant.
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